By Rebecca Russell
Masked singing and great joy rang across the Hollywood Pres campus this past Saturday morning – our first in-person worship event since the onset of Covid-19 and quarantine. About 45 members of our beloved congregation (observing the state limit of 50) responded and RSVP’d to attend a socially-distanced, fully masked fellowship to ask God for his blessing, healing, renewal and presence on our entire FPCH community, our beloved city, our nation and world. (Thanks, Amie Quigley, for inviting us into your vision and commitment.)
All agreed that our time together was too short, from 9-10 a.m., but that God’s kindness allowed us to maximize that brief hour, starting with opening prayer, and singing led by Blake and Jessica Russell in the parking lot (“This is Amazing Grace”), then moving mostly outdoors throughout the campus in small prayer groups of 4 or so people.
With our masks a reminder of our dependency and human limits, this intergenerational group of brothers and sisters acknowledged our helplessness in the face of ash from burning fires, our frailty in the face of COVID-19 and disease, our poverty of spirit and resources in the face of need, and so much else. But we all came HUNGRY for God’s presence and fellowship on the holy ground where He’d met us so many times before. And God showed up. Everyone present can tell you, God’s Spirit came to lead us, to fill our hearts and minds with courage and a sense of mission.
Tom Hartshorn prepared a beautiful sheet of guided scripture and prayer requests, so that each of us could personally respond and lay our cares, our own congregation’s many needs and transitions, our city’s struggles, and our nation’s divided brokenness – all before the Lord of the universe, our only hope, who holds our destiny.
Near Wylie Chapel, my small group prayed – my husband Joel, along with a dear sister and friend we’ve worked alongside for years, and a brother we’ve known but not well. Listening to each other’s deep longings to know and walk God’s paths, to see God’s goodness personally and communally, to bring Jesus’ healing and protection to others, my respect and heart for each of them grew, along with my commitment to pray for them after this day ended, through the weeks to come.
We prayed for FPCH: “Let us make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19). And “Then he said to them all: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). Difficult words for difficult times. I know I am the worst at this, in my family and friend circles, in my work and church life. But come, Lord Jesus. We have a Savior and King who has not given up on us!
As we walked, socially distanced, to picnic tables spread on the grass, Jack Hardgrave reminded us this was the spot where The Salt Company used to reach out to our neighborhood with music and the gospel. Esther Lombardi (recently returned from her Missions trip to England among a refugee community) cried out to the Lord to fill our church, ministries and congregation with renewed passion and energy, and the Living Presence of God’s Holy Spirit. Many prayed with her. No one wanted to leave. More hymn-singing with Blake and Jessica closed with “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus”, and many met to discuss next steps and ideas for what our church might look like and become in the coming months. Pastor Joel Larson generously stopped every few feet for someone wanting to ask how they could participate more, or to give thanks.
Prayer for this week: God, who are You calling to? Is it me? You are the Great Good God, our God of Wonders, our Maker, and You do not need us to fulfill the world’s peace and salvation. Who are we that You would call to us, to join You in your joyous work? We at FPCH know that we have no one to hope in but Jesus, the God-Man who came to Earth and gave Himself for us all. Weep no more, for God has come. Teach us to die to our puny selves, and live for our glorious God, until Christ is Lord over all, and the whole world restored to God’s glory. Amen, dear friends.